“I’ve just said we would go to Abbie and Steve’s wedding in January”, my wife Cat said while waking me up in the early hours on her return from a night out with the girls.
“Do you know how far Australia is?” was my immediate reply, followed by, “let’s talk in the morning”.
On recommendation of a family friend, we paid a visit to Abbotts Travel.
Greeted by the smiley and charming Julie back on that hot summers day, we discussed our plans, indicating a long-term ambition to visit New Zealand and established a time frame of around 4 weeks once we had been to Sydney for the aforementioned wedding. This was actually happening.
Julie was justified and realistic in managing our expectations: “don’t try to do too much in Australia as it is huge and you will be forever on the road”. At this point, I had to take Theo to a distant part of the shop as a full on meltdown was occurring. It did make me think that this was something to be avoided as much as possible as long road trips with a baby are not always pleasant.
Flights covering the month period as follows: London to Singapore, then on to Sydney. We would then fly from Sydney to Wellington, then travel by ferry to the South Island before flying home to London.
With Cat and I running our own businesses, the few days prior to departure had been manic in order to ensure the next month could remain as email and phone-free as possible.
Crucially for the flights, Julie organised something called a bassinet for us. I thought it was some kind of musical instrument, but I soon realised it is something that babies sleep in during long flights and a must have. We became even prouder (read as smug) parents, when the couple next to us, also with a baby (but without Singapore slings) revealed they had a strict routine with their baby. ‘Oh dear’ I thought, expecting Theo to keep their beloved up. Yet, Theo slept like a baby (where does this phrase come from?) and their child screamed rather a lot.
After a wonderful time in Sydney, including the fabulous wedding it was next stop to Wellington, New Zealand. On arrival, it was soon apparent that Wellington doesn’t seem like a city. It’s more like a large town, hence its charm and appeal. There are also live open air concerts with a large number of revellers on a Tuesday afternoon. What a place we had found!
Several points of interest in the capital included: The Cable Car, Oriental Bay, Ta Papa museum (National museum of NZ). All well worth visiting and Sweet Mothers Kitchen, Bangalore Polo Club and Prefab for foodies out there are a must do.
After four nights in the Capital we took the intercontinental ferry from Wellington (North Island) to Picton (South Island) where we would begin the next leg of our trip. Interestingly (for me but not Cat), Wellington is further South than Picton and therefore more of a journey from East to West.
We soon realised that there is no such thing as a quick journey in New Zealand. Collecting the hire car at Picton for our drive to Nelson, we learned a distance of around 40km would take us around 2.5 hours. It is strongly advised to allow good time on journeys. Given the slower pace of life and stunning scenery this is no hardship though.
The recommendations for Nelson lived up to expectations; Mapau bay, Flat Whites and “fush and chups”. If you have ever tasted a ‘flat white’ in New Zealand then you would struggle to find a good one in the UK. Sorry Costa/ Starbucks. At the time of writing this still suffering from jet lag, some six days on since arriving back in the UK, I miss my daily dose of the ‘flatty’.
Fish and chips too are made to order and not too shabby either and Mapau bay was simply beautiful.
Our main request for the itinerary was a trip to the Marlborough region, in Cat’s opinion the home of wine, specifically Sauvignon Blanc. Julie booked us in at the prestigious Raetihi Lodge in the heart of Marlborough Sounds. This place is a must – heavy on the wallet, but worth it.
In Wellington, the three of us slept in the same room, making wine consumption post Theo going to bed somewhat difficult. Yet, here the baby monitor stretched from the restaurant on the resort to Theo’s room. The intimate nature of the place made it perfect for Valentine’s day. The onsite babysitter was a godsend and we did some cycling and kayaking on the beautiful waters.
Our longest drive of the trip was about to happen (around 5.5 hours) from Marlborough Sounds to Punakaki. The idea was to share the driving between Cat and I, roughly half each. After about an hour we came across the Cloudy Bay winery. With it being a particularly favourite of ours, particularly Cat, it became apparent that I was to take up the remainder of the drive.
The South Island truly lived up to its glorious reputation. After we were informed how picturesque the drive to Wanaka would be we were not disappointed. This charming town with mountainous views was a pleasure to spend time in. We hired two bikes and I was able to show off my fitness thinking I was impressing my son, who proceeded to fall asleep as we battled up the hills on the way back to our apartment. Good family fun though!
Other highlights included a visit to Milford Sound – a must do on the South Island. We booked a boat trip cruise in which we saw a large number of enthusiastic dolphins swimming by the ferry. Again, do allow plenty of time to travel to and from Milford Sound and stay at Te Anau to break up a long journey to the Sounds. If you miss the boat, quite literally (like we did) then there may be other scheduled departures that let you on – in true Kiwi style there is no increase in price and a relaxed attitude that is in keeping with everywhere we visited. ‘Sweet as’, ‘No worries’.
We seemingly went from having two weeks left, to 4 nights – and we arrived in Queenstown. While Theo had been an absolute delight to be travelling with in the main, the need for another babysitter for one day become high on the ‘to do list’. Julie put us in touch with a wonderful agency and we used a British expat babysitter to help us pursue some adventure in the home of the ‘adventure capital of the world’.
Planning our child free activity day, we decided adventures involving water and the ground were preferable to throwing ourselves out of an aeroplane or bungee jumping; those we deemed spectator sports. We opted for the ‘Queenstown combo’ – Whitewater rafting and the Shotover jet. Both were enjoyed tremendously by Cat and myself where we got the adrenaline fix that Queenstown certainly provides.
We developed a mutual taste and thirst for travel and a mobile lifestyle. We really should get invited to destination weddings more often! On the long journey back home, dreading the temperature swing from 25 to -4 degrees and with a Singapore Sling in hand, I was able to reflect on a truly memorable travel experience.
Parents if you can travel with a baby and have some time – do it! Especially before school starts and routines are set in stone.
New Zealand is stunning, unspoilt and spectacular. There is something for everyone, whether it be walking, hiking, kayaking, helicopter rides, museums and drinking flat whites or wine. This was more than a holiday, it was a once in a lifetime experience that hopefully will be repeated with my beloveds. Yes, we were ‘mad’ to do, yes, a 20+ hour flight is as tough as it sounds (twice!) but would we do it all again? Absolutely.
Thanks to Julie at Abbotts Travel for making this possible and replying to my hopefully not to frequent emails at various points! Special thanks to Cat and Theo for putting up with me for a month.